Thursday, October 23, 2008

Gear for Autumn 2008 Hikes

I was thinking that I ought to record some of the gear that I take with me on my hikes. I try to be a lightweight backpacker so I try to be very minimalist in what I carry and I also try to carry the lightest possible version of whatever I decided I need to carry.

To begin with here is the pack I currently carry.

It's a Gossamer Gear G5 pack. Gossamer Gear makes some of the lightest weight packs you can buy. This pack weighs a mere 10.5 ounces. I already owned one of their Mariposa packs which is a little larger and heavier (at 16.8 ounces) and I liked it but as I got lighter and lighter in what I carried I found that I didn't need the space. The G5 is just about right for my 3 season use for short trips (1 or 2 nights). I might use the Mariposa in the winter or for longer trips.

A lightweight pack is a great thing but it requires lightweight gear as well. A hiker who usually carried 50 pounds on his or her back probably has a pack that weighs 6 pounds. Now if this hiker says "hey I want to lighten up, I'll get a lighter pack" and then tries to jam their current gear into a G5 they will have problems. A lightweight pack is designed for lightweight loads. A heavy pack is heavy because it has to be made of very sturdy materials and have lots of features to enable it to carry heavy loads comfortably. My packs don't even have frames. Yet they are very comfortable to carry (I hardly notice them) because there isn't much weight inside.

Actually it's a bit of an exaggeration to say that my packs don't have frames. What they do is to utilize a somewhat stiff piece of gear to make the pack stiff. Below you can see two closed cell foam pads. The one on the right is a NightLight torso pad from Gossamer Gear. It weighs 3.6 ounces and folds up in thirds. The folded pad slips into a pad sleeve on the side of the pack facing my back and provides all the stiffness I need. It is also very comfortable against my back, both when hiking and sleeping.

The other pad is a Walmart pad. It has the same "egg crate" surface but it is wider and full length with a total weight of 14.7 ounces. As it gets colder I need to carry this pad to put under me in my hammock.

The picture below is of my bridge hammock that I use in the cooler months.

I would use it in the summer but it has no bug protection (although I could sew some on if I weren't so lazy). It has a double layer of cloth and I slip the Walmart pad between these to keep from losing heat as the breeze blows under me. Those breezes can rob a LOT of heat even when the temperature is only slightly cool. This hammock is extremely comfortable but probably not the lightest weight thing I could carry. The reason is that a bridge hammock requires two spreader poles to keep you from getting squeezed by the hammock. The hammock, including stuff sack, poles, and suspension lines, weighs 38 ounces. But it's worth it for me because it's so comfortable. When I'm using the Walmart pad inside the hammock I use the torso pad as a pillow.

Speaking of staying comfortable while sleeping here is my quilt.

My sweet and beautiful wife made it for me. Notice that it is a quilt, not a sleeping bag. Sleeping bags weigh more than is necessary since they have insulation both above and below. But the insulation below you is compressed by your weight and so does very little insulating. A quilt is basically the top half of a sleeping bag. This design is simplicity itself. The insulation (2.5 oz/yd Climashield XP) is sewn (only along the edges) between two layers of 1.1 oz/yd rip stop nylon. Then the bottom edge is folded over and sewn shut to form a foot box. If I get warm during the night I sleep my feet out of the footbox. That's another benefit of a quilt over a bag. The quilt can be snuggled close around you or draped loosely over you, as the temperature demands. Just like your sheets at home. The keeps you from sweating during the night which would chill you as the temperature drops. The quilt weighs about 10.7 ounces.

Here is the quilt inside a Dry Bag from Walmart. Notice the roll top closure. So if my pack get's wet my quilt will still be dry. The dry bag weighs 1.3 ounces.

A major weight saving strategy of lightweight backpackers is multipurpose gear. If one piece of gear can serve more than one function then you save weight by having fewer pieces of gear. Here you can see my poncho/tarp from Golite, another company that caters to lightweight backpackers.

It's longer in back than in front so that it will protect my pack as well as me while hiking. In the picture you can see some yellow cord tied to loops sewn in the corner of the poncho/tarp. In camp I tie these cords on and set it up as a tarp over my hammock. So it's both clothing and shelter. The total weight including stuff sack, cords, four stakes, and two rubber bands (for closing the head hold when using as a tarp) is 12.5 ounces.

Here are my smaller items. First is my kitchen set. Inside is my pot, pot stand, alcohol stove,windscreen, fuel for 2 or 3 meals, lighter and a washcloth. The total weight is 7.6 ounces. This is actually one of several kits that I sometimes use. In another post I go into details and describe each one and the pluses and minuses of each.

This is my knife/multitool, a leatherman squirt P4. Some people prefer the model with the scissors rather than the pliers. But I think a knife can do anything scissors can do and sometimes there is no replacement for pliers. The other tools are screwdrivers, an awl, and a file. It may be overkill for backpacking but you never know. And it only weighs 2 ounces.

The new LED flashlights have been a big boon to lightweight backpackers. I'm shocked to think that I ever carried a flashlight with 2 or even 3 heavy D batteries. LED lights draw very little power and provide adequate light for most purposes. If you have ever used a flashlight you quickly realize that what you really want is one attached to your head that points where you are looking so you can keep your hands free. Both of these are headlamps. The one on the left is a Petzl E+lite. It weighs 1 ounce with the battery and the protective case next to it weighs 0.6 ounces. This is an excellent light. It has high and low settings, flashing settings, and a red light option (which keeps your pupils from constricting as much at night and making you blind for a few seconds after the light goes out). The one on the right is a Gerber Tempo. It's tougher and takes a single AAA battery but it only has one setting. The elastic strap is homemade and turns this little flashlight into a headlamp. With the strap and battery it weighs 1.4 ounces.

I have two for when I'm backpacking with one of my kids or with my brother. However often I will bring both when I'm solo for a backup.

A critical piece of gear is a first-aid kit. I've enhanced this little one with a mirror and a tick-pulling tool (critical in Missouri). The mirror may seem a bit strange. In the old days they told hikers to bring one for signaling planes in an emergency. That seems like quite a stretch to me. But it can be useful when examining the back of your legs for ticks in the evening.

I call this my hygiene kit and I keep all these items together in a zip-lock bag. From left to right it has: [Top row] toothbrush, floss, earplugs (the woods are noisy at night!), q-tips, toilet paper, biodegradable soap (also used for toothpaste), [bottom row] lightload towel (a truly amazing towel), sunscreen, moquito repellent, SPF15 chapstick, and some ibuprofen (for aches and pains) and melatonin (for sleeping) in a baggy (better living through chemistry!). The entire kit, with ziploc bag, weighs 8.4 ounces.

In another post I'll go into more detail about stoves, food and water, and my clothing choices to round out my pack list. Then I'll total the weights and see if I am really a "lightweight backpacker".


Jacqueline said...

Cool! I am so glad that you are starting to record your experiences so we can share them. I just book marked it!!! Love you

Grant said...

Dude I was so happy for that first aid kit when I started leaking juice out of my foot. That was a good deal. I like your gear by the way. Only I think you are nuts for sleeping in the open air.

Dude, you need to get a different template for your blog. One that expands with the window. That option exists for the template you have (mine expands). Help you out a lot.

Laura said...

Ticks! ick. I got one in Utah a few weeks after I met Mike. It was so freaky! I actually called him up at 10 pm and begged him to come get it OFF/OUT of me!!!! Nasty little parasites. Anyway, it was a bonding experience for Mike and I, as he had to see pretty high up on my leg. haha!